Word Traveler: Twenty-three great SAT words

This feature is for all word lovers as well as those studying for the SAT and seeking to learn new vocabulary.

alimentary: relating to nourishment; supplying nourishment [comes from Latin alimentum, from alere "nourish"]

  • The alimentary canal consists of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
  • He researched the alimentary habits of Pakistan.

bereft: lacking something needed; sorrowful through loss or desperation [from bereave, whose base means "rob, plunder"]

  • Her writing is bereft of imagination.
  • He was utterly bereft when his cat died.

clemency: mildness of temper, esp. leniency or compassion toward an enemy or in sentencing a criminal; also, mildness of weather [from Latin clementem "mild, gentle"]

  • The prisoner made a plea for clemency.
  • The clemency of the weather this winter has been flabbergasting.

desultory: aimless, haphazard; disconnected, rambling; marked by lack of purpose [from Latin desultor "leaper, vaulter"]

  • She wandered in a desultory fashion through the shopping mall.
  • They carried on a desultory conversation.

esoteric: known only by a few people; understood by only an inner circle of people [from Greek esoterikos "belonging to an inner circle," from eso "within."]

  • The school put on art exhibition for everyone, even those with the most esoteric tastes.
  • Esoteric Buddhism involves doctrines handed down in secret.

fulminate: to denounce or criticize loudly; to explode or cause to explode [from Latin fulminare "to strike with lightning" (its original meaning in English) from fulmen "lightning"]

  • The preacher fulminated against those who do not practice tolerance.
  • The fireworks will soon fulminate.

gesticulation: a vigorous gesture; signal or indication by gesture [from Latin gestus "action, gesture"]

  • Gesticulations by the nervous President gave away his lack of confidence.
  • Wild gesticulations caught his attention at the airport.

hedonism: the pursuit of personal happiness and pleasure; the philosophical theory that pleasure is the highest good [from Greek hedone "pleasure" + English -ism]

  • She is a perfect example of selfishness and hedonism.
  • As an epicurean, he follows hedonism as a way of life.

irascible: easily provoked; irritable [from Latin irasci "to grow angry"]

  • The author was energetic and irascible.
  • His irascible personality may sometimes be soothed by music.

jocund: jolly; full of merriment [from Latin jocus "jest, joke"]

  • I am more jocund than you may suspect.
  • They loved having the jocund gentleman as a guest.

ken: range of knowledge; range of what one can know [a very old word from Teutonic and Germanic with the base meaning of "I know"]

  • The math SAT is beyond my ken.
  • Reading all those dictionaries has expanded her ken of vocabulary.

latent: not presently active; potential but not yet displayed [from Latin latere "to be hidden"]

  • The latent picture was developed by the photographer.
  • His latent musical talent came out when he learned to play the guitar.

maneuver: a skillful or clever move to gain a tactical end (can also be a verb: to act in order to achieve a goal or specific end) [from French meaning "manual labor", from Latin manus "hand" and operari "operation" - had a military meaning when it entered English, then took the general meaning around 1774]

  • He executed the skillful maneuver.
  • The diplomatic maneuvers avoided a military confrontation.

nuance: a subtle or slight variation in meaning, attitude, or other quality (can also be a verb: to impart a subtle variation in meaning or other quality) [from French nuance "shade of color," from Middle French nuer "to shade," from Latin nubes "cloud"]

  • The nuances of our language make thesauruses necessary.
  • He studied the painting for nuances of expression.

obtrude: to force oneself or one's ideas on others in an unwanted way; to extrude or stick out, thrust outward [from Latin ob- "in the direction of" + trudere "to thrust"]

  • I will not obtrude when I visit their weekend house.
  • Their shouting obtruded upon his reading time.

paucity: smallness in number; scarcity; insufficient quantity [from Latin paucitas "fewness; a small number," from paucus "few"]

  • There is a paucity of information about the disease.
  • The paucity of restaurants made the area unattractive to us.

quorum: minimum number of people that have to be at a meeting for it to be considered official or for decisions to be made [Latin, literally "of whom"]

  • When a quorum is reached, the meeting will begin.
  • They will need a quorum to hold the election.

rectify: to correct, set right [from Latin rectus "right" + ficare / facere "to make"]

  • Let's rectify the mistake before the media sees it.
  • We need to rectify the situation with the coach.

superfluous: beyond what is necessary or sufficient; extra [from Latin superfluere, super- "over" + fluere "to flow"

  • His superfluous explanations fall on deaf ears.
  • Ten desserts for twenty people is superfluous.

temerity: recklessness; fearless daring [from Latin temeritas/temeritatem "rashness," from temere "blindly, by chance"]

  • You had the temerity to call him a liar?
  • It takes a lot of temerity to sail a boat into a storm.

usurp: to illegally seize the power or rights of another [from Latin usurpare "to seize for use," from usus "a use" + rapere "to seize"]

  • Mom does not like when you usurp her authority.
  • The police did not attempt to usurp his rights.

vacillate: to waver in opinion or course of action; to oscillate or swing unsteadily [from Latin vacillare "to sway, stagger"]

  • The President vacillates on why we are carrying on a war.
  • Are you still vacillating between staying or going?

wanton: immoral; undisciplined, unmanageable [from Middle English wan- (prefix of negation) + towen "to discipline," so the word is literally "undisciplined"]

  • He has a wanton disregard for human life.
  • The wanton children roamed the restaurant.

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